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Ambiguity In Product Promotion

Ambiguity in Product Promotion

Marketing Ambiguity in Cross-Cultural Communication with Success


The field of marketing is not immune to the intentional and well-planned formation of ambiguity. A range of examples of promotional strategies and other marketing activities will be given, particularly from international perspectives. There are four types of ambiguity in advertisements, which include:

• Verbal and Intentional
• Verbal and Unintentional
• Nonverbal and Unintentional
• Nonverbal and Intentional

More than expected, there is a wide range of unintentional misunderstanding in promotional efforts, notably in advertising. For instance, we often run across an advertisement that pictures a living room in which family and friends are gathered. It becomes difficult to understand the purpose of such an advertisement. Would it be the carpeting, the living room furniture, or the designer outfits that the picture is trying to promote? The advertisement fails to emphasize the intended product clearly. Some promotional experts; however, believe that these kinds of advertisements are well-thought-out, well- planned, and intentionally used in order to entice the viewers’ curiosity.

The probability of creating a less effective or even counter-effective advertisement is considerably higher in international settings. The underlining reason for this is that promotional planners overlook cultural variations from one market to another. As stated in Marketing Week, “It is quite an art to tweak the content and presentation of advertising in different countries to produce a universally acceptable message.”1 Kitcatt Nohr, as an example, advertised in the United Kingdom, showing pet owners hugging their pets. This advertisement lost its effectiveness in Italy because it is not common there to hug pets. Therefore, assuming cultural uniformity across nations creates misunderstandings that diminish promotional effectiveness.

It is also essential to be mindful of the differing meanings of words, brand names, and slogans across cultures. For example, Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, expanded the sales of its Nova to some of the Spanish-speaking countries, including Mexico. In their initial market entry, they noticed people’s reluctance to buy the Nova, which probably occurred because in Spanish, “No-” means “no” and “-va” means “go.”

If an advertising campaign is successful in one market, it does not guarantee its success in another market, despite considerable cultural similarities and shared language. Electrolux launched a successful advertising campaign in England with the slogan, “Nothing Sucks Like an Elecrolux.” However, in the United States, the message was interpreted based on its colloquial meaning.3

Some years ago, I consulted for an American shoe manufacturer who wanted to explore the Western European markets for exports. The company specialized in men’s shoes with thick soles. The initial plan was to disseminate catalogs and samples of its shoes to prospective intermediaries and major department stores. Although the company was successful in the American market, I advised to conduct further research before implementing their plan. The reason being, that a major portion of the American market prefers men’s shoes with relatively thick soles that signify quality. However, Western European men favor thin soles on their shoes. Therefore, the manufacturer was looking into the possibility of adapting to that market by making shoes with thin soles or exploring other markets.

As noted, all ambiguous advertisements are not unintentional. There are many advertisements that are well-planned and executed to be misleading and ambiguous. A billboard shows a young woman with full and shiny hair. Next to the woman is a bottle of shampoo. The objective is to develop an association between such attractive hair and this brand of shampoo, while the woman had beautiful hair to begin with.

Many advertisements claim that their product is the best. It is not clear that “being the best” signifies which characteristic of the product is best. Would it be its performance, durability, warranty, size or style? Moreover, is it the best in comparison with other similar products in the market? The objective is to relate the term “the best” with their product.

Product Manufacturing and Corporate Ownership

Not too long ago, I was talking with a gentleman who was standing next to his Buick Century 2003. He was expressing pride in driving an American automobile. At that time, I noticed a label at the driver’s door stating that the car was imported from Ontario, Canada. The reality is that more than ever before corporations manufacture their products across national borders, and the change in corporate ownership is occurring more frequently. As a result, it is difficult to keep track of what product is made in what country and which corporation belongs to which country. To this end, let us take a few moments to answer the following multiple choice questions:

1. Godiva used to be owned by a(n)________ company and now, it is owned by a(n)   __________ company.

a. American, Belgian
b. Belgian, Saudi-Arabian
c. American, Turkish
d. Swiss, Belgian

2. Giant Foods’ ultimate parent company is in _______:

a. The United States
b. The Netherlands
c. Canada
d. The United Kingdom

3. Greyhound Bus line’s ultimate parent company is in _______:

a. The United Kingdom
b. Japan
c. The United States
d. Luxembourg

4. Holiday Inn Express’s ultimate parent company is located in _______:

a. The United Kingdom
b. Japan
c. Canada
d. The United States

5. Ben & Jerry is owned by which of the following companies:

a. Unilever
b. General Mills
c. Kraft Food
d. Nestlé

6. The first Subway restaurant opened overseas was in ______:

a. Cairo
b. Buenos Aires
c. Vienna
d. Bahrain

7. Gerber baby food was acquired by a  company in ______:

a. Germany
b. Austria
c. Australia
d. Switzerland

8. 7-Eleven store’s ultimate parent company is in ______:

a. Norway
b. Japan
c. The United States
d. Sweden

9. Anheuser-Busch is a(n) ___________ company:

a. German
b. Belgian
c. American
d. Japanese

The answer to the above nine questions are:
1.c., 2.b., 3.a., 4.a., 5.a., 6.d., 7.d., 8.b., and 9.b.


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